West Virginians working on community development have the potential to shift the narrative of a state in perpetual decline, establish our state as a national leader in the community development field, and better position our communities to attract new and greater resources for our work. Through our work, we see a system of people and services in West Virginia that is vibrant, engaged, and committed to bringing about innovative approaches to rural community development rarely seen anywhere else.
Yet, despite the level of community development activity that has been undertaken over the last decade, data trends documenting economic growth, prosperity and quality of life have not tracked with local progress, engagement, and optimism. Why is this?
In 2019, The Hub published a report with preliminary findings on progress, successful strategies, and persistent challenges facing West Virginia’s community development field.
The Community Development Innovation report features suggested metrics for tracking collective impact for practitioners in the field; six evidence-based best practices for rural community development; and recommendations for better documenting and demonstrating impact moving forward.
We see the need to document and celebrate community development impacts in rural communities as a key innovation opportunity facing us in the coming decade.
Our process included survey and analysis of 22 West Virginia communities, 5 community focus groups, 1-on-1 interviews with community development practitioners, a Community Development Think Tank with 75 participants from across West Virginia, enlisting the support of research firms Downstream Strategies and Midwest Evaluation and Research, and other tactics.
We championed the input and insight available from the experts working on community development on the ground – including practitioners with decades of experience, people who are relatively new to the work, and community members engaged in their cities and towns.